Stretching for weight training is the absolute starting point as you begin your fitness-focused lifestyle changes. Whether you are new to strength training or not as young as you used to be (like me), stretching before every single workout is critical to injury prevention and optimizing the results from your workout. For seniors and anybody, really, I recommend some form of stretching on non-workout days, too. This will help reduce muscle soreness and keep you limber. Make this part of your warm-up which should include light lifting before getting to the intensity part of your workout.
It is also very advantageous to do some stretching as part of your warm-down after completing your workout. We will take a look at both types of stretching on this page.
The most common stretching that most of us think about is when we stretch prior to weight training, or any exercise for that matter. The type of stretching for weight training that I recommend before your workout is known as static stretching. In this type of stretching, a muscle group is slowly stretched to its farthest position and then held there. No bouncing!!! How long this takes is really different for everyone. Personally, I tend to have very tight muscles in my legs. I have to hang there for several minutes before I even get close to touching my toes, for example (I usually need to stand back up and try several times so I don't get dizzy from blood running to my head :)
I have the same general stretches that I do no matter what my workout is going to be and then some specific ones that focus on the muscle groups that I will be training that day.
As for the general stretches, I stretch my legs in several different directions due to the inherent stiffness mentioned above. I also always loosen my shoulders and waist, stretch my back, do the "bird dog" balancing/stretching position for both of my legs (Google it) and then come back to my legs one last time to stretch my hamstrings.
On the specific stretches for weight training days, I will stretch my chest, triceps, wrists and forearms on bench press days, as an example. Use some common sense as you plan your workout for the day to help you determine your pre-workout stretches.
Here is a chart you can print to help with finding the right stretches for weight training.
If you have done any kind of weight training, then you have come to know and love that "full-muscle" feeling after your workout know as The Pump. It is immediate feedback that you did something really good for your body. Now, if you have gone straight to the kitchen and tried to reach the top shelf where your post-workout protein jar is stored, you will know that you can't reach as high as you normally can. Why? When you lift weights, your muscles contract and they stay contracted for an extended period of time. "Recovery" is the lengthening of the muscle fibers over a period of time after you lift. This lengthening helps your body get back to its normal range of motion, flexibility and usability (if that is a real word).
To speed up the recovery, I recommend some stretches after your workout, too. These should be gentle, just like the warm-up stretching discussed above. Unlike the minor discomfort you may experience when getting into your pre-workout stretches, I want you to just ease into the post-workout stretching and not go so far. Your body will tell you that it is helping. When you go back to the starting position, if you feel less "pumped", the stretch is doing its job. Everyone is different and the intensity of your training will have a lot to say about how long you will need to stretch.
There are a number of new studies that have come out that cast questions onto the benefit of stretching before and after workouts. All I can tell you is that it helps me and everyone that I know. Plus professional athletes can be seen stretching in pretty much every sport prior to the game. Their body is their moneymaker. Keep that in mind. Science is science, but sometimes the real world says differently.
It is pretty universal, however, that daily stretching is a great idea. Read this article for another point of view. It hasn't stopped me from stretching for weight training. I highly recommend it for you, too.